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As University president, Lawrence H. Summers became known for funding undergraduate life initiatives that the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, of which the College is a part, couldn’t or wouldn’t pay for. As the Faust era begins, one looming question is whether the new president will be as committed—or will need to be as committed—to the social experience of her students.
In rare interviews over the past few months, President-elect Drew G. Faust has steered clear of making precise commitments to improving student life, preferring to focus on reforms to undergraduate education instead. FAS administrators have taken a similar tack, arguing that it is time to follow several big-ticket social initiatives with a costly push to modernize the curriculum.
“In the last several years, [there have been] a number of major investments in areas other than the curriculum,” said former Interim Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles. “It would not surprise if in the coming years, there will be some complementary...funding on the curricular side.”
But an unsatisfactory social life remains a primary complaint among Harvard undergraduates, according to surveys conducted in the past few years.
Even as he directed hundreds of thousands of dollars in discretionary funds toward concerts, new cafes, and a campus pub, Summers insisted near the end of his term that a mechanism needed to be developed inside FAS to pay for such initiatives.
“I felt in my years as president that there was a real gap in the adequacy of funding for student life and have fairly consistently tried to fill that gap,” the outgoing president said last spring. “Over time, I would think that the financial arrangements should be set so [that undergraduate initiatives] can be handled internally by the dean of Harvard College.”
Since Summers’ departure, the University has moved in that direction. While the President’s Office paid for last year’s spring concert, featuring the piano-pop virtuoso Ben Folds, the College footed the bill for this spring’s Third Eye Blind performance. Both events attracted thousands of undergraduates to the Yard.
In her only sit-down interview with The Crimson this semester, Faust said in February that “I certainly got an earful” from the Undergraduate Council on issues ranging “from recreational facilities to internship opportunities to social life.” But Faust, who has never overseen undergraduates as an administrator, voiced ambivalence about how to approach those issues.
“Certainly I would support addressing those issues and I would be very concerned about student concerns in that area,” she said. “But once again, whether I would personally be doing those or whether they would happen through an FAS dean or a College dean—we would want to see what the most effective way of addressing them is.”
Faust’s recent decision to appoint Michael D. Smith, who has, in her words, “been so involved” in life outside the classroom, to the FAS deanship seems to indicate a push to increase the dean’s role in undergraduate life. Smith is chair of the Faculty Standing Committee on Athletics Sports at Harvard and worked on a review of life in Cabot House.
“I know from my interactions with my advisees that you spend a good number of hours on classroom work, but there is a lot of work outside of the classroom,” Smith said in a phone interview on Monday. “I think the dean of the College is a critical position, and we need to pay attention.”
—Claire M. Guehenno contributed to the reporting of this story.
—Staff writer Alexander D. Blankfein can be reached at email@example.com.
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